You’ll be glad you spent 8 minutes watching this movie on YouTube here.
These are questions asked by humans throughout history. You might be asking these questions yourself. Following the groundbreaking scientific VIA Classification of human strengths (which some call “The Periodic Table of Character Strengths”), there is now a framework for discussing these questions.
And, what would be a better way to explore character strengths than to watch a movie about it!?
Of course not. But as viewers we don’t get to see what happens next in these formulaic Hollywood films. There are exceptions.
Enter Before Midnight, a new romance-drama starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and directed by auteur filmmaker, Richard Linklater. This is the third installment of films made about 10 years apart and follow two characters, Jesse and Celine, after their original chance encounter on a train heading to Vienna (see Before Sunrise and Before Sunset).
These films are known for engaging dialogue. Conversations that are “real,” poignant, and interesting. Characters share themselves, their ideas, and their opinions openly. They attack, praise, cajole, and surprise one another. We are carried through love and intimacy, thoughts about their relationship origins and life philosophies, the fruits and challenges of long-term commitment, and tense arguments.
Before Midnight is a quintessential “dialogue film.” This helps it be an outstanding “teacher” of positive relationships.
Audiences are already familiar with Superman’s exemplary physical strength and superhuman powers but it is the non-physical strengths he displays that are most interesting. Superman (referred to as Clark Kent and Kal-El in the film) displays significant psychological strength (character strength). If he were to take the VIA Survey of strengths, it is likely his signature strengths would be
Picture this: I’m on the edge of my seat (literally) in a crowded movie theater viewing Ben Affleck’s new film Argo, currently the number one film in the U.S. The audience and I are captivated by the story of Tony Mendez, a CIA agent’s desperate attempt in 1980 to save the lives of six hostages from a revolutionary Iran. Mendez’s creative idea of pretending to make a movie in Iran becomes the only hope of saving the hostages.
The intensity is riveting. All of the viewer’s attention focuses on what might be the next plot development – will the hostages make it through the airport checkpoints? What obstacles will they face next? How can they possibly overcome them?
But then I reflected more deeply: What really matters most in terms of this story as it unfolds before me? What I found surprised me.
“The Avengers” is now the third highest grossing film of all time (domestic and worldwide). The film is about famous superheroes coming together as a team to battle evil. Are the millions of people watching this film learning anything about the film’s main premise – teamwork?
Yes and no.
In the midst of the most prestigious golf tournament of the year, the Masters, Tiger Woods is trying to solidify his comeback. He needs a major championship in order to seal the deal.
A few years ago, he lied. He cheated on his wife. Repeatedly. He let down fans. He hurt many people, especially his family and friends. Former fans and spectators claimed Tiger was a man without character. Similar claims are made against other philanderers – politicians, ministers, and athletes (e.g., “she has no character”; “he has bad character”).
New research into the science of character strengths is showing that such statements do not make much sense.
Signature strengths are at the core of our identity. They are our essence…they are what make us glow. Maybe you shine when you express kindness or hope? Or perhaps when you use humor or creativity? Whenever we express a signature strength we are probably at our best – authentic, strong, and real.
When you think of Katniss, the star of The Hunger Games, what strengths make her glow?
I asked this of a few people who read the book, saw the movie, and know quite a bit about the VIA Classification of character strengths.
This movie can teach us ways to increase our courage.
No doubt the premise of The Hunger Games is awful and disturbing – a society in which children must kill other children until there is only 1 survivor. It’s a society in which the authoritarian Capitol tries hard to glorify this process and make the various cultures (the 12 Districts) value the process of killing. They succeed with some (the seemingly more wealthy people who bet on the “games”) and fail with others (the poor and working class districts who suffer and feel controlled by the Capitol).
Can a film that starts from such amoral grounds still offer something of substance to its viewers?